Credits are the "building blocks" we use to find out whether you have the minimum amount of covered work to qualify for each type of Social Security benefits. If you stop working before you have enough credits to qualify for benefits, your credits will stay on your record. If you return to work later on, you can add more credits so that you can qualify. No benefits can be paid if you do not have enough credits.

For more information than what is listed below, please read our publication, “How You Earn Credits."

How Credits Are Earned

When you work and pay Social Security taxes, you earn up to a maximum of four "credits" for each year. The way you earn a credit has changed over the years.

Before 1978, employers reported your earnings every 3 months and we called credits "quarters of coverage," or QCs. Back then, you got a QC or credit if you earned at least $50 in a 3-month calendar quarter.

In 1978, employers started reporting your earnings just once a year. Credits are now based on your total wages and self-employment income during the year, no matter when you did the actual work. You might work all year to earn four credits, or you might earn enough for all four in a much shorter length of time.

The amount of earnings it takes to earn a credit has changed since 1978. In the year 2016, you must earn $1,260 in covered earnings to get one Social Security or Medicare work credit and $5,040 to get the maximum four credits for the year.

Note: You do not earn credits for pension payments or for interest or dividends on savings and investments. You do not pay Social Security tax on that kind of income.

During your lifetime, you probably will earn more credits than the minimum number you need to be eligible for benefits. These extra credits do not increase your benefit amount. Your average earnings over your working years determine how much your monthly payment will be.

Number Of Credits Needed For Retirement Benefits

The number of work credits you need to get retirement benefits depends on your date of birth.

If you were born in 1929 or later, you need 40 credits (10 years of work). People born before 1929 need fewer than 40 credits (39 credits if born in 1928; 38 credits if born in 1927; etc.).

Number Of Credits Needed For Disability Benefits

The number of work credits needed for disability benefits depends on your age when you become disabled. Generally, you need 40 credits, 20 of which were earned in the last 10 years ending with the year you become disabled. However, younger workers may qualify with fewer credits.

The rules are as follows:

  • Before age 24--You may qualify if you have 6 credits earned in the 3-year period ending when your disability starts.
  • Age 24 to 31--You may qualify if you have credit for working half the time between age 21 and the time you become disabled. For example, if you become disabled at age 27, you would need credit for 3 years of work (12 credits) out of the past 6 years (between ages 21 and 27).
  • Age 31 or older--In general, you need to have the number of work credits shown in the chart below.

    Unless you are blind, you must have earned at least 20 of the credits in the 10 years immediately before you became disabled.
    Born after 1929, Became Disabled At Age Number of Credits You Need
    31 through 42 20
    44 22
    46 24
    48 26
    50 28
    52 30
    54 32
    56 34
    58 36
    60 38
    62 or older 40

Number Of Credits Needed For Survivors Benefits

The number of credits you need to have family members be eligible for survivors benefits depends on your age when you die. The younger you are, the fewer credits you need, but nobody needs more than 40 credits (10 years of work).

Under a special rule, we can pay benefits to your children and your spouse who is caring for the children even if you don't have the number of credits needed. They can get benefits if you have credits for one and one-half year's work (6 credits) in the three years just before your death.

Note: If you are already receiving retirement or disability benefits at the time of your death, we will pay your survivors based on that entitlement. We will not have to determine your credits again.